I’ve been working for Jeff Howe at Crowdsourcing.com, doing basic research stuff for his book which will be finished later this year.
Tonight, I spent a fair amount of time researching bird hobbyists. Specifically, I was looking into the Audobon Society’s Christmas Bird Count and their Great Backyard Bird Count. It’s an example of "citizen science" according to Wikipedia.
I know a several people are annoyed with the term "citizen journalist" and I can understand why. A colleague recently asked if that term bothered me — my reply: If I try teaching a 6-year-old boy how to read, would you call me a "citizen teacher"?
That specific semantic debate aside, I do have a more positive attitude towards "citizen scientist" (since science is traditionally something you need a degree and distinct education to practice).
I’m currently talking to different people who are involved in citizen science — more specifically, I’m talking to people who are interested in using web 2.0 tools to improve the methods that (a. scientists can do research (b. reporters can cover science issues and (c. teachers can relate scientific principles to eager students.
It’s an interesting subject. Science, in my mind, is the next field outside of software that can really profit from the connectivity of the Internet. As the exchange of information increases — the rate at which we can further refine scientific research into minute fields of interest, power that research by the crowd and share the findings through open source practices and principles is still in its infancy. In part because science is big business — but as companies like Innocentive continue to succeed — I expect open source science to emerge the victor over big business.
Although science is connected to big business — it is in the end a noble pursuit that will, I hope, seek the greatest means to achieve its ends. I believe citizen science will play a role — just as open source science (the open sharing of scientific findings) will distribute the power of science in ways we have never imagined.